Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Red-Hot Providence Beats St. John’s for Sixth Straight Win Heading Into Big East Tourney
NEW YORK — When the Big East Preseason Poll came out back in October, Providence was projected to finish ninth in the 10-team league, just behind St. John’s and just ahead of DePaul.
Now, with the Big East Tournament set to begin this week at Madison Square Garden, the Friars will be the No. 3 seed thanks to a six-game winning streak that culminated Saturday with a 86-75 win over the Red Storm at the Garden.
When Marquette beat Creighton at home later Saturday, the Friars were locked into the No. 3 seed.
Villanova and Butler are locked in as the top two seeds, respectively.
Providence (20-11, 10-8) is the hottest team in the league and may well have ensured themselves their fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid, a most unlikely prospect entering the season considering this team lost Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil to the NBA off last year’s team.
“Five of our top eight guys that play are all first-year guys so it took us some time to build that synergy and chemistry, but I couldn’t be more proud of this group,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said. “In the preseason everybody talked about Ben, Kris, Junior [Lomomba]. You gotta give other kids an opportunity to grow and develop and it took a little longer than we wanted. But we’re here. I think we’re playing in a decent spot right now and I’m just proud of our organization and what these kids have done.”
Entering the weekend, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Friars among his “Last Four Byes” — along with Syracuse, Seton Hall and Marquette — and chiming in as an 11 seed.
The Friars will avoid a “bad loss” in the Big East Tournament because they will face either the 5 or 6 seed in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
During their six-game run the Friars beat No. 22 Butler and won at No. 23 Creighton, while also beating potential NCAA Tournament teams Xavier and Marquette.
“In all honesty, all we talked about all year was we’re just tired of people talking about Ben and Kris,” Cooley said. “We wish they were in the locker room but it’s somebody else’s opportunity to put their stamp on the program.”
Against St. John’s (13-18, 7-11), the Friars took a 37-25 halftime lead and were never seriously threatened in the second half.
Isaiah Jackson led Providence with 18 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Alpha Diallo finished with 17 points and four assists, Jalen Lindsey went for 17 points, four rebounds and three assists and Emmitt Holt had 14 points.
Shamorie Ponds led St. John’s with 18 of his career-high 29 points in the second half to go with seven rebounds, Bashir Ahmed added 18 points and seven rebounds and Marcus LoVett scored 12 points.
Providence had 18 assists on 29 baskets, while St. John’s managed just six assists on 23.
“That was pretty brutal,” Chris Mullin said of his team’s performance.
He added: “We had a horrible sleep-walking performance but we do have a game Wednesday [against Georgetown in the 8/9 game]. That’s the good thing.”
Cooley, meantime, had high praise for Ponds, a favorite to win Big East Rookie of the Year honors. Cooley lost Ponds in a recruiting battle to the Johnnies because the Brooklyn kid wanted to stay home and play for Mullin.
“Man, the kid Ponds is phenomenal,” Cooley said. “I know him personally, I know him well. We tried to recruit him. He came over and game me a hug, I thought it was a class act. His parents came over and said hello. That kid’s a pretty special player.”
Asked about the backcourt of Ponds and LoVett going forward, Cooley had high praise, too.
“They have one of the best backcourts in the country,” Cooley said. “Those two guys at any point can get 30, 40 points in a game. You can’t give them any space. Any kind of space they have, they can drive it, they can shoot it, they can make free throws, which is really critical. That backcourt is going to be something to deal with over the next three years.”
Class of 2020 recruits Che Evans and Justin Lewis attended the game on an unofficial visit to St. John’s…Red Storm head coach Chris Mullin and three assistants watched 2018 Hudson Catholic shooting guard Luther Muhammad on Friday night.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.